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Exhumations

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The Chancellor refused to grant a faculty for exhumation. The petitioner wished to exhume the recently interred cremated remains of her husband from the churchyard and reinter them in her garden. The petitioner said that she had had differences with the vicar and for that reason she found it painful and distressing to visit her husband's grave. The Chancellor did not regard these circumstances sufficiently exceptional to justify the grant of a faculty.

The petitioner wished to have the remains of her father ("the deceased") exhumed from the grave immediately next to the grave of his second wife and reinterred in the grave of the deceased's first wife, which grave also contained the remains of the deceased's parents, in order that a new memorial bearing the names of all four members of the family could then be put on the grave. The Chancellor ruled that there were no special circumstances which would justify the grant of a faculty. It appeared that before his death the deceased believed that there was no room for him to be buried in the same grave as his first wife and parents and was content to be buried elsewhere in the churchyard. His second wife died shortly after the deceased from a terminal illness, and it was assumed that they would naturally wish to be buried together after 28 years' marriage. Moreover, 25 years had passed since the deceased's death, and there was no explanation as to why an application had not been made earlier.

The petitioner wished to have the cremated remains of his father exhumed from one plot in the cemetery and reinterred in another plot with the cremated remains of his recently deceased mother. The reasons given for the application were: (1) the petitioner's father's burial plot was close to the entrance of the cemetery, and when members of the family visited the plot, all other people visiting the cemetery would be passing by them; (2) there was no convenient seat at which to sit and reflect; and (3) the plot was next to a gully cover. The Chancellor was satisfied that the petitioner genuinely found the location of the plot unsuitable, but he could not find any exceptional reason to justify exhumation.

The petitioner's mother's (a Belgian Roman Catholic) had been buried in an unconsecrated part of Streatham Park Cemetery. The petitioner's father had been buried in a consecrated part of the cemetery, and in the same grave as the petiitoner's father's still-born sister. The father's interment had been arranged by the petitioner's late grandparents. The petitioner believed that his father had always wanted to be buried with his mother, so that the grandparents had failed to carry out the wishes of the father. Also, the petitioner was unhappy about the lack of maintenance of the area in which the graves were situated. The petitioner proposed that the remains of his parents should be exhumed and reinterred together in the town in Belgium where his parents had been married, and where they had relatives. The Chancellor agreed to the exhumation of the father's remains (the exhumation of the mother's remains from unconsecrated ground would reqire a Home Office licence) and reinterment in the Belgian cemetery. The Chancellor refused to grant an additional request of the petitioner to have the remains of his father's still-born sister exhumed and reinterred in a cemetery at Maidstone, where the petitioner's grandparents were interred in separate graves.

By mistake, the body of a lady was interred in the wrong grave, namely, in a grave reserved for a married couple, of whom the wife's body had already been interred in the grave. The mistake only came to light when the husband who had reserved the grave died and arrangements were made for his interment with the remains of his wife. The husband's remains were temporarily interred in an unconsecrated grave. The Chancellor granted a faculty for the exhumation of the remains of the lady buried in the wrong grave, in order that they could be transferred to the grave where they should have been buried, so that the remains of the man could be exhumed and reinterred with the remains of his wife.

The Chancellor granted a faculty to authorise the exhumation of cremated remains, so that they could be reinterred in the same grave at a greater depth, in order to allow the interment above them of the cremated remains of another member of the family.

This is an anonymised judgment. The petitioner proposed to be buried in the same grave as her late sister and parents. However, when her sister's husband died, his cremated remains were interred in the same grave, notwithstanding that a granddaughter of the late sister had specifically asked the parish priest not to inter the husband's remains in the same grave, alleging that the husband had subjected her to repeated sexual abuse when she was young, and it would cause great distress to the family to have his remains in the same grave where the remains of some members of the family were already interred and where other members of the family wished their remains to be interred. The Chancellor decided that the continuing family distress which would be caused by allowing the husband's remains to be left in the grave amounted to exceptional circumstances justifying exhumation. He therefore granted a faculty for the exhumation of the husband's cremated remains and for reinterment of the remains in another churchyard.

The Ambassador of the Embassy of the Republic of Serbia petitioned the Consistory Court of the Diocese of Oxford for permission to exhume the remains of Queen Maria of Yugoslavia from the consecrated Royal Burial Ground at Frogmore for reinterment in the unconsecrated family crypt in St George’s Church, Oplenac, in the city of Topola, Serbia. Although a faculty would not normally be granted for exhumation where reinterment would not take place in consecrated ground, the Chancellor was satisfied that the remains would be reinterred in "a place of real permanence", namely the royal mausoleum in Serbia, and he accordingly granted a faculty.

The petitioner sought the exhumation of the cremated remains of her father, interred in 1977, in order to comply with the wish of her late mother, who died in 2013, that the ashes of both parents might be scattered together on the banks of the river Tyne in the village where the couple had met, courted and been married. The Chancellor determined that he was unable to grant a Faculty for two reasons: (1) beginning with the presumption that Christian burial should be regarded as final, and therefore exhumation should only be allowed in exceptional circumstances, the Court of Arches, in Re Blagdon Cemetery [2002], expressly considered the case of a change of mind on the part of the relatives who had brought about the original interment and stated that this “should not be treated as an acceptable ground for authorising exhumation”; (2) where remains have been committed to the care of the Church, they should only be disturbed if the Court can be satisfied that appropriate arrangements are in place for the continuing protection of the remains.

The petitioner applied for permission to exhume the remains of her baby, who had died fifteen years previously aged 12 weeks, following an operation to repair a heart defect. At the time of the baby's death, the petitioner and her former partner had lived in Lancashire, where the baby had been buried, but the petitioner (and her former partner) now lived in Yorkshire. The petitioner claimed that owing to her state of health it was difficult to visit the grave in Lancashire. Her former partner objected to the proposed exhumation and became a party opponent. The Deputy Chancellor, after considering the decisions in Re Christ Church, Alsager [1999] Fam 142, Re Blagdon Cemetery [2002] Fam 299, and other exhumation cases, determined that moving the remains of the baby simply so that they were nearer to where the petitioner now lived was not an exceptional reason for authorising an exhumation and he accordingly refused to grant a faculty.